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All On-Call in the Family: Use of Electronics Hooks Teens, Parents, Even Babies! The Result: More Anxiety for Everyone

Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on All On-Call in the Family: Use of Electronics Hooks Teens, Parents, Even Babies! The Result: More Anxiety for Everyone

All On-Call in the Family: Use of Electronics Hooks Teens, Parents, Even Babies! The Result: More Anxiety for Everyone

Much has been reported about the pervasive use of electronics by teenagers and the need for parents to have a screening policy against the overuse of screens.  Well, it turns out that parents are often part of the problem, not the solution, as many moms and dads have become overly attached to their smartphones, iPads, laptops, and social media.  In fact, today’s preoccupation with screens extends throughout the family, with Generation X and Y parents, boomer grandparents, and even babies involved:  Fisher Price is marketing a baby bouncy seat with an iPad holder, and now there is a potty seat that comes with an iPad holder. What is the effect of this “all in the family” technology?  These new techie toys are coming to market so quickly, and our society has an insatiable appetite for them.  Caught in the vortex, research hasn’t had a chance to catch up, and we won’t have definitive data about the effects of this lifestyle revolution for years to come. We do, however, now know some things that are troubling.  Let’s start with babies. Developmentally, babies from the time they are born, seek contact with human faces. They learn language through human interaction. The value of connecting with others comes from the early, loving connection to significant others. Social, non-verbal language development depends on the experience of relating with others. Further, research suggests that TV watching before the age of 2 leads to a higher incidence of Attention Deficit Disorder. As far as the impact of babies playing with iPads, my instinct says it can’t be good. Face-to-Face As a child psychologist, my biggest concern about the explosion of screen use among all of us, including babies, is that it interferes with sustained face –to-face, intimate contact with family members.  Again, how this will affect social and emotional development is an unknown, but it’s clear that screens divert our focus from humans into gadgets, in a way that is highly individualized and not social.  And it’s  not only the impact of screens on our children and babies that is problematic; it is also the impact of parents who may be physically with their kids but actually not connected to them because today’s moms and dads are often distracted by screens as well. While we typically feel compelled to respond to the constant barrage of emails, texts, calls, etc., we are not connecting in a meaningful way.  And ironically, if we try to extricate ourselves from our gadgets, we often feel anxious that we are missing something important. When I became an intern years ago, I was given a beeper to be used when I was “on call,” and I remember how anxiety-producing it was when it would go off. When wearing it, I was always aware that I was working on some level, and I wasn’t free to relax when playing with my kids, making dinner, or even taking a rest. In the last few years, like many doctors, I have given back my beeper and use my cell phone instead, since they both serve the same function.  However, now, everyone has a cell phone, and we are often expected to be on call, on-demand, 24/7. How many of us, especially parents, would not feel anxious if we left home without our phone? How...

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“Screening” Takes on New Meaning

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on “Screening” Takes on New Meaning

“Screening” Takes on New Meaning

Responsible parental screening of their kids’ behavior has always been a good idea.  But in today’s age of increasingly advanced technology, parents face unique challenges.  While there certainly are advantages to instant access of virtually any kind of information, there are also formidable risks associated with our digital age that can be quite damaging to kids if parents don’t exercise appropriate levels of control.  Put another way, if parents don’t do their job. Remember the “good old days?”  We grew up chatting on the “house phone,” which is now almost extinct. Our parents knew who we were talking to, and natural limits were always in place. A common mantra was, “Get off the phone! Your father needs to make a call!” We talked about boys we liked and girls we didn’t like, how mean our parents were, and how we wanted to kill our siblings. If we heard a “click” when we were talking, that meant someone picked up the extension and was listening.  We quickly yelled in outrage, “Hang up the phone!” and talked only when we knew no one else was on the line.  We weren’t perfect kids, but the communication was one-on-one, and it seemed harmless.   Brave New World? Fast forward to today’s world of smartphones, iPads, laptops, YouTube, video games, cable, multiple social media channels, and whatever Next Big Thing is coming. For the most part, kids don’t talk; they text.  But while communication today routinely excludes their parents, it ironically includes a very public audience. Today, kids say they must have what “everyone else” has.  However, the latest in digital toys may not be the greatest. For instance, in three weeks since its release, the very violent Grand Theft Auto video game sold more copies than any other product in history! Who is driving these markets, and who knows everything about all the latest technological advances? Kids, not parents. Who is paying for it? Parents, not kids. The bigger questions are who is in control, and what is a parent’s responsibility?   Staggering Statistics Why is this so important?  The statistics tell part of the story. Almost 80% of 10-year-olds have cell phones, and almost half have smartphones, while 93% of teens have computers they actively use (Pew Research Center 2013).  And it goes even younger than teens:   Babies are playing with iPads—and not only on the commercial! Consider this:  22% of teen girls have sent nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves; 39% of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to be shared with people other than the intended recipient; 51% of teen girls say pressure from a guy was the reason they sent these images (The National Campaign). Further, it is common that when these kids “break up,” they send the pictures to buddies. More unsettling statistics:  Surveys show that 43% of teens aged 13-17 reported they had been cyber-bullied in the past year; 88% of teens say they have seen someone being mean or cruel to another person online.  Only one in ten kids who are bullied online tell their parents about it, only 7% of parents are worried about cyber-bulling, and 80% of kids think it is easier to hide cyber-bullying from parents than face-to-face bullying.  Meanwhile, the overall cyber-bullying trend is growing...

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The Under-Scheduled Child

Posted by on Oct 9, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on The Under-Scheduled Child

The Under-Scheduled Child

As parents, we all have heard of the “over-scheduled child” who goes from one structured activity to the next, with no time to relax.  While this can be problematic, as a child psychologist who specializes in working with anxious kids, I am more concerned about what I call the “under-scheduled child.” This is the child who doesn’t like sports, hates music lessons, would never join a club, and won’t do anything after school. The child who through the years “tried” all these things, quit, and then refused to go back. This is also the child who doesn’t like to get together with friends. The under-scheduled child says, “I have friends.” But the cell phone isn’t used, except for games, and the invitations never come.  Unfortunately, there is often one loyal “friend” in the under-scheduled child’s life that is a constant companion and fun to play with: the computer or TV. The rise of technology has brought with it an epidemic of children school aged, and sadly, beyond, who spend most of their waking hours not face to face with peers but in front of a screen.  Boys are often most attracted to video games and girls to reality shows and “social” media sites. Under-scheduled children come home from school and immediately turn on the screens, often pretty much until bedtime.  They rush through homework and dinner to get back to their best electronic friends.   Identifying Children at Risk Who are the children and young adults most at risk for this? Children who struggle with social difficulties, either because they have anxiety or are on the autism spectrum, or both. How can being a “homebody” be a sign of anxiety or social difficulties? Avoidance and denial are the biggest defenses against anxiety. When a social situation is avoided, the comfort zone is not threatened.  Anxiety comes when unpredictable social and performance expectations are presented. Under-scheduled children often avoid experiences that promote the development of new skills, strengthening of peer relationships, and opportunities to get much-needed physical exercise. They are missing out on learning the importance of taking risks and experiencing success. Perhaps even more important, they are not learning something we all need to know: how to cope with the sting of failure. Often, it is this fear of failure that keeps them home in their comfort zone. The under-scheduled child never says, “I don’t want to do that because it scares me, it makes me nervous.”  Or, “I’m afraid I’ll mess up, and other kids will laugh and make fun of me.”  Or, “If I invite someone over, I wouldn’t know what to do with them, and what if they have a really bad time?”  In this way, those uncomfortable feelings are avoided.  When asked to play a sport, the response is often, “I tried that, I hate sports.”  Study music?  “It’s too hard; I’m no good at music.” Join a club at school?  “Why would I want to do that? It’s stupid; nobody joins clubs.” Get together with a friend after school?  “I see my friends at school; that’s enough for me. I just like to be home after school.”   Working with Your Child As parents, what can you do to break this unhealthy pattern?  First, break through your own denial. A child who spends many...

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Fall is Here! New Starts, New Expectations, New Rules

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Fall is Here! New Starts, New Expectations, New Rules

Fall is Here! New Starts, New Expectations, New Rules

With fall and back to school, everything changes. New schedules, new routines. This is a great time to look at what you expect of your child and how to work together to make family life run smoothly. Now is a great time to make changes in rules and limits. Mornings are now busy, and we have to get up and out! Some kids are great at this; others need more help.  No television in the morning is very important if you have kids who do not get ready easily (TV can be a show stopper)! Some kids get sucked in and everything stops…not a good idea in the morning, when they need to be moving and getting ready for their day. Even eating breakfast in front of the TV can slow them down. No TV, unless they are all ready and waiting for when it is time to leave, then, maybe as a reward, if they can easily turn it off when it is time to go. Afternoons should be as consistent as possible. Physical exercise is always good for many reasons. Social time is also terrific in the afternoons. Homework time should be structured. Establish when the best time for homework will be. Some kids like to get right to it after school, others need a break. However, you should not expect kids to do homework too late—they are just too tired! Make contact with your child’s teacher(s) now. Let the teacher know you are the kind of parent who wants to be involved—any problems, you want to know, sooner, rather than later. Some parents may not want to be bothered, so teachers may hesitate to contact them until there is a major crisis. You do not want to be that parent. You also want to be very positive with your child about school. You and the teacher work together. You want to encourage your child to talk to you about any problems at school. “You know Mom and Dad are good at solving problems” They need to know they are not alone in dealing with school problems. Now is the time to set up expectation for chores. “Summer is over, now it is important for you to do these chores every day.”  Make it clear. I love charts because kids are visual and concrete. Even young kids can set the table. Chores are important. “We are a family and we work together,” is an important message. Hold your breath because what you can do better, in two seconds, may take your child ten minutes. Don’t do it! Kids need to work and realize they are an important member of the family and that being a family member means both GIVE and take. Review bedtimes and bedtime routines. Kids need about ten hours of sleep. With getting up early for school or day care, they need to go to bed early. Make the bed time clear and the routine easy and with a purpose. I am not a fan of big bedtime rituals. Wash, brush teeth, pajamas, read, goodnight. Keep it simple and consistent. This is also the time of year to think about what role screen time will play in the lives of your children. How much TV, computers, video games, phone time is enough, how much...

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Anxiety and Summer

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Anxiety and Summer

Anxiety and Summer

Long Days of Summer Summer is here and if your child is on the anxious side you may find that they easily turn into “homebodies.” They just want to stay home. “I don’t want to do that! I hate going there. Why do I have to?” Gone are the days for most kids where there is a large group of neighborhood kids up bright and early and running outside to play. Some suburban neighborhoods look like ghost towns in the summer because parents are working and kids are in camps. If your child is home for the summer months, the big attraction, especially for boys, is often the computer. Playing games until very late at night for hours and hours and then sleeping late is a common pattern for anxious kids and kids on the spectrum. Girls tend to gravitate towards social media and TV shows and movies. Sitting alone, even when “talking or playing with friends” is not healthy for hours and hours a day. Interacting on the computer is not the same as face to face interaction. Computer interaction does not strengthen social skills in the same way that being and doing with peers does. “Why is this a problem? They are at school all year, don’t they deserve a break?” It is a problem because they are isolated and not engaged in activities that build self-esteem. Anxious children cling to their comfort zone and avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. Getting out and being challenged, learning new things, meeting new kids, initially may be anxiety provoking. Assuming the activity is a good match for your child, it will reap great rewards. New friends, skill development, physical exercise, and separation from parents are all important tools to help your anxious child feel more confident and less anxious. Camps are expensive, but some have scholarships for low-income families. Communities often have inexpensive or free summer activities. If that is not an option, a schedule for the summer becomes important. Up and out early, consistent bed time, limits to screen time, social interaction with peers, physical exercise. As a parent, you are in charge and can make the summer an active healthy one for your child. Talk about it, share ideas, but make it clear this summer will not be a summer of social isolation, little exercise, unlimited screen time or being attached like velcro to Mom or Dad. It may initially be a battle, but kids settle into routines and respond to what is expected. Screens are not the enemy, they have their place but like everything else, need to be used in moderation. Anxious kids can easily hide behind screens, so they need limits because they can’t easily limit themselves. Physical exercise is like medicine for anxiety and depression. The battle of getting your kids up and out of the house will pay off when they are healthier and ready to face the social, emotional and challenges of back to school after an active productive...

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The Birds and the Bees for Kids on the Spectrum

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on The Birds and the Bees for Kids on the Spectrum

The Birds and the Bees for Kids on the Spectrum

Recently, a 13-year old patient of mine did not understand why her mother would not give her nail clippers in the middle of a church mass. Her mother looked at me and said, “It was a teachable moment.”  This mom clearly gets it. Her daughter is on the autism spectrum and did not know mass is not a time to cut your nails.  She now knows. No clipping nails in church. It is a rule, she gets it. Kids on the autism spectrum usually get the “puberty talk” at school and parents have the “sex talk” at home. The problem is, like everything else, they learn the facts, but facts alone do not help them to navigate this complicated time in their lives. Everyone knows they have social difficulties, they have trouble with non-verbal social cues and they often have trouble knowing what is socially appropriate. What is more social and non-verbal than sexuality? How is it we forget that they may need a very different kind of sex talk then their typical peers? Many kids on the spectrum act inappropriately sexually when their intent is completely naive.  A patient of mine, who happens to be academically brilliant, went on a religious retreat with other teens. After a day of activities and prayer, the rabbi asked the group to close their eyes and pray. He then said, “Would anyone like to share their thoughts?” My patient immediately raised his hand and said, “I just can’t stop thinking about how much I want to go across the room and touch Mary’s breasts.”  The kids all burst out laughing and the rabbi looked horrified.  My patient had no idea what the fuss was about. Fortunately he was with a group of kids who knew him, and knew he had Aspergers. However, even so, Mary was deeply embarrassed and, if her parents were not so understanding, you can imagine their reaction. “A boy said that to my daughter in front of all the kids at a religious retreat?” I have had other patients on the spectrum who have gotten into more serious trouble for sexually inappropriate behavior,  and also had no clue what they did wrong.   Speaking inappropriately about sexual feelings, masturbating in public, taking inappropriate pictures, touching random peers or asking to be touched in a sexual manner, all without awareness of the consequences, are common among kids on the spectrum. We all know, there is zero tolerance for inappropriate sexualized behavior,  and kids on the spectrum are not given a free pass. As parents, we know they had no bad intent, but we also know the impact on others can be hurtful, no matter what the intent. And the consequences can be not only social and emotional, but legal. They may also become targets themselves.  Just as they often do not realize they are being bullied, they may not realize when they are being taken advantage of by someone in a sexualized manner. Kids on the spectrum are vulnerable due to their difficulty in understanding social interactions. They may need both protection from others, and, supervision to protect others, as they learn appropriate sexual behavior and how to manage their new sexual feelings. These kids need to be taught the rules of sexual behavior, just like they learned the rules of other social behaviors.  It is not fair to them for us to assume they know. Depending...

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